09/01/2017 12:20 PM IST | Updated 10/01/2017 8:56 AM IST

Is The Internet Telling You What To Think?

How digital content shapes ideology.

Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

How do you decide which side of the story you favour? How proud are you of your beliefs?

Before you answer that, I have a question: Are your beliefs and convictions your own?

By and large, the internet has shaped the way we think.

This is the era of the highest ever internet consumption. Around 46.1% of the world population uses internet today, which makes around 3.5 billion (and continuously increasing) people according to Internet Live Stats. With that number of internet users, imagine how big the social media army is. Statista concludes that 68.3% of internet users used social media in 2016.

Why do you think these stats are important when we are talking about ideology?

Because, often, our ideology is not our own, especially given the impact of the internet on our lives. By and large, the internet has shaped the way we think. Here's a quote from an article published in MIT Technology Review on "The Impact of the Internet on Society: A Global Perspective" that pretty much sums up the idea in a capsule:

"What is clear is that without the internet we would not have seen the large-scale development of networking as the fundamental mechanism of social structuring and social change in every domain of social life."

The internet and ideology

Take the internet itself, for example.

Phase 1

The internet gains popularity in the world. More and more humans start using it. Some ideologists write their theories to distribute over the web, on how the internet is connecting the world and making it a better place by spreading awareness. Every inernet user is all praises for the internet and its miraculous ability to bring people together by transcending geographical boundaries. Various new products are launched to facilitate the growth of internet usage or vice-versa.

Dominant Ideology: The internet is the best thing ever happened.

Phase 2

One fine day, some other content generator writes about how cyberspace has reduced human interaction. A few impactful videos are made convincing people how social media is a threat to real relationships and why should you stop using the internet. This discourse leads to people longing for an internet-free world. Travel companies further promote this discourse to lure you into buying travel packages and living a tech-free life. Some radicals generate more content on the side-effects of the internet.

Dominant ideology: The internet is a bad thing and leads to a false, unrealistic life.

Phase 3

The internet seems to be inescapable. Someone feels the need to address this and comes up with the idea of how the internet is projected as a bad thing but it is definitely not. Goes ahead and writes about how the internet is the oh-so-powerful phenomenon showing us light in times of crisis.

Dominant Ideology: The internet is the unsung hero.

What do you think? Sounds relatable?

Now, given the fact that there is dominant ideology, there is non-dominant ideology as well. A small number of people kick off the discourse for both the ideologies, and the rest of us simply read the content served to us over the internet, primarily via social media, and follow.

Selling, not being an easy feat, becomes the primary goal of spreading ideology.

Now, how does this work?

Whichever ideology fits into our personal comfort zone is the ideology we relate to.

This is how ideology percolates in our minds and society.

The internet, undoubtedly being powerful, is the primary medium of this broadcast of certain ideologies, and content, in the form of discourse, becomes the game-changer.

The more convincing the content, the more will be the subjects of the ideology.

That is how dominant ideology is born.

Systematically distorted communication

Terry Eagleton calls ideology a systematically distorted communication. This systematic distortion takes place at the hands of the bourgeoisie who run the world. These are the people who run big businesses and are constantly trying to figure out ways of selling.

Selling, not being an easy feat, becomes the primary goal of spreading ideology. The dominant group conveniently distorts communication and spreads it systematically over the internet with the help of digital content and creates a discourse.

This discourse facilitates the desired ideology and that, in turn, facilitates sales.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the most powerful of all?

Guess who? The content creators. Words are, after all, mightier than swords. The content creators, being the generators of compelling material, are the ones who change the shape of the society and propagate the dominant ideology.

Role of social media

Social media plays the most important role when it comes to the tools of proliferation. With the help of social media, digital marketers spread the ideology to the masses. Globally, as of 2016, internet users spent 118 minutes per day on social media on an average. People are most likely to accept new beliefs when they are on a social platform. Serving the new ideology on such platforms increases the chances of acceptance.

The dominant group conveniently distorts communication and spreads it systematically over the internet with the help of digital content and creates a discourse.

The impact of social media in the world is such that digital marketers have started using social media to improve search ranks. Search ranks, as popularly known, are another methodology of establishing power and dominance in the world of internet. When the search ranks improve, there is a direct authority that is established, making the group more dominant, and consequently capable of disseminating further "systematically distorted communication" through discourse.

Can you escape? No. Be alert? Yes.

This entire system leaves you feeling cheated if you go and discover the roots, but that is how it works. Society has been working on the principles of ideology for as long as history exists—just the mediums change or upgrade. Education, books, and now the internet are the means of propagating the dominant ideology, impacting your decisions and lives.

However, awareness is the key. You, for sure, cannot escape this societal structure, but you can make informed decisions without being lured by distorted communication.

Note: ideology is not always harmful. Just because you are tricked into believing something does not imply you are falling for the wrong belief. The human brain has the power to analyse and think beyond its comfort zones. Have something to add to this story? Let us start a conversation in the comments section below.

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